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John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was an American statesman and jurist who shaped American constitutional law and made the Supreme Court a center of power. Marshall was Chief Justice of the United States, serving from February 4, 1801, until his death in 1835. He served in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, to June 7, 1800, and, under President John Adams, was Secretary of State from June 6, 1800, to March 4, 1801. Marshall was from the Commonwealth of Virginiamarker and a leader of the Federalist Party.

The longest serving Chief Justice in Supreme Courtmarker history, Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades (a term outliving his own Federalist Party) and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he established that the courts are entitled to exercise judicial review, the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. Thus, Marshall has been credited with cementing the position of the judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, Marshall made several important decisions relating to Federalism, shaping the balance of power between the federal government and the states during the early years of the republic. In particular, he repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.

Early years

John Marshall was born in a log cabin near Germantownmarker, a rural community on the Virginiamarker frontier, in what is now Fauquier Countymarker near Midland, Virginiamarker, to Thomas Marshall and Mary Randolph Keith. From a young age, he was noted for his good humor and black eyes, which were "strong and penetrating, beaming with intelligence and good nature". Marshall served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and was friends with George Washington. He served first as a Lieutenant in the Culpeper Minute Men from 1775 to 1776, then as a Lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginia Continental Regiment from 1776 to 1780. During his time in the army, he enjoyed running races with the other soldiers and was nicknamed "Silverheels" for the white heels his mother had sewn into his stockings. After his time in the Army, he read law under the famous Chancellor George Wythe in Williamsburg, Virginiamarker at the College of William and Marymarker, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was admitted to the Bar in 1780. He was in private practice in Fauquier County, Virginiamarker before entering politics.

State political career

In 1782 Marshall won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, in which he served until 1789 and again from 1795–1796. The Virginia General Assemblymarker elected him to serve on the Council of State later in the same year. In 1785, Marshall took up the additional office of Recorder of the Richmond City Hustings Court.

In 1788, Marshall was selected as a delegate to the Virginia convention responsible for ratifying or rejecting the United States Constitution, which had been proposed by the Philadelphia Convention a year earlier. Together with James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Marshall led the fight for ratification. He was especially active in defense of Article III, which provides for the Federal judiciary. His most prominent opponent at the ratification convention was Anti-Federalist leader Patrick Henry. Ultimately, the convention approved the Constitution by a vote of 89-79. Marshall identified with the new Federalist Party (which supported a strong national government and commercial interests), rather than Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party (which advocated states' rights and idealized the yeoman farmer and the French Revolution).

Meanwhile, Marshall's private law practice continued to flourish. He successfully represented the heirs of Lord Fairfax in Hite v. Fairfax (1786), an important Virginia Supreme Courtmarker case involving a large tract of land in the Northern Neck of Virginia. In 1796, he appeared before the United States Supreme Court in another important case, Ware v. Hylton, a case involving the validity of a Virginia law providing for the confiscation of debts owed to British subjects. Marshall argued that the law was a legitimate exercise of the state's power; however, the Supreme Court ruled against him, holding that the Treaty of Paris required the collection of such debts.

In 1795, Marshall declined Washington's offer of Attorney General of the United States and, in 1796, declined to serve as minister to France. In 1797, he accepted when President John Adams appointed him to a three-member commission to represent the United States in France. (The other members of this commission were Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Elbridge Gerry.) However, when the envoys arrived, the French refused to conduct diplomatic negotiations unless the United States paid enormous bribes. This diplomatic scandal became known as the XYZ Affair, inflaming anti-French opinion in the United States. Hostility increased even further when the Directoire expelled Marshall and Pinckney from France. Marshall's handling of the affair, as well as public resentment toward the French, made him popular with the American public when he returned to the United States.

In 1798, Marshall declined a Supreme Court appointment, recommending Bushrod Washington, who would later become one of Marshall's staunchest allies on the Court. In 1799, Marshall reluctantly ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. Although his congressional district (which included the city of Richmondmarker) favored the Democratic-Republican Party, Marshall won the race, in part due to his conduct during the XYZ Affair and in part due to the support of Patrick Henry. His most notable speech was related to the case of Thomas Nash (alias Jonathan Robbins), whom the government had extradited to Great Britain on charges of murder. Marshall defended the government's actions, arguing that nothing in the Constitution prevents the United States from extraditing one of its citizens.

On May 7, 1799, President Adams nominated Congressman Marshall as Secretary of War. However, on May 12, Adams withdrew the nomination, instead naming him Secretary of State, as a replacement for Timothy Pickering. Confirmed by the United States Senate on May 13, Marshall took office on June 6, 1800. As Secretary of State, Marshall directed the negotiation of the Convention of 1800, which ended the Quasi-War with France and brought peace to the new nation.

The Marshall Court from 1801 to 1835

Marshall was thrust into the office of Chief Justice in the wake of the presidential election of 1800. With the Federalists soundly defeated and about to lose both the executive and legislative branches to Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans, President Adams and the lame duck Congress passed what came to be known as the Midnight Judges Act, which made sweeping changes to the federal judiciary, including a reduction in the number of Justices from six to five so as to deny Jefferson an appointment until two vacancies occurred. As the incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health, Adams first offered the seat to ex-Chief Justice John Jay, who declined on the grounds that the Court lacked "energy, weight, and dignity." Jay's letter arrived on January 20, 1801, and as there was precious little time left, Adams nominated Marshall, who was with him at the time and able to accept immediately. The Senate at first delayed, hoping to Adams would make a different choice, but recanted "lest another not so qualified, and more disgusting to the Bench, should be substituted, and because it appeared that this gentleman was not privy to his own nomination". Marshall was confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1801, and received his commission on January 31, 1801. While Marshall officially took office on February 4, at the request of the President he continued to serve as Secretary of State until Adams' term expired on March 4.

Soon after becoming Chief Justice, Marshall changed the manner in which the Supreme Court announced its decisions. Previously, each Justice would author a separate opinion (known as a seriatim opinion), as is still done in the 20th and 21st centuries in such jurisdictions as the United Kingdom and Australia. Under Marshall, however, the Supreme Court adopted the practice of handing down a single opinion of the Court. As Marshall was almost always the author of this opinion, he essentially became the Court's sole mouthpiece in important cases. His forceful personality allowed him to dominate his fellow Justices; only once did he find himself on the losing side. (The case of Ogden v. Saunders, in 1827, was the sole constitutional case in which he dissented from the majority.)

The first important case of Marshall's career was Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which the Supreme Court invalidated a provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 on the grounds that it violated the Constitution by attempting to expand the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Marbury was the first case in which the Supreme Court ruled an act of Congress unconstitutional; it firmly established the doctrine of judicial review. The Court's decision was opposed by President Thomas Jefferson, who lamented that this doctrine made the Constitution "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

In 1807, he presided, with Judge Cyrus Griffin, at the great state trial of former Vice President Aaron Burr, who was charged with treason and misdemeanor. Prior to the trial, President Jefferson condemned Burr and strongly supported conviction. Marshall, however, narrowly construed the definition of treason provided in Article III of the Constitution; he noted that the prosecution had failed to prove that Burr had committed an "overt act," as the Constitution required. As a result, the jury acquitted the defendant, leading to increased animosity between the President and the Chief Justice.

During the 1810s and 1820s, Marshall made a series of decisions involving the balance of power between the federal government and the states, where he repeatedly affirmed federal supremacy. For example, he established in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) that states could not tax federal institutions and upheld congressional authority to create the Second Bank of the United Statesmarker, even though the authority to do this was not expressly stated in the Constitution. Also, in Cohens v. Virginia (1821), he established that the Federal judiciary could hear appeals from decisions of state courts in criminal cases as well as the civil cases over which the court had asserted jurisdiction in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee (1816). Justices Bushrod Washington and Joseph Story proved to be his strongest allies in these cases, whereas Smith Thompson was a strong opponent to Marshall.

The text of the McCulloch v.
Maryland decision, handed down March 6, 1819, as recorded in the minutes of the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the Court determined the separate states could not tax the federal government.


As the young nation was endangered by regional and local interests that often threatened to fracture its hard-fought unity, Marshall repeatedly interpreted the Constitution broadly so that the Federal Government had the power to become a respected and creative force guiding and encouraging the nation's growth. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Constitution in its most important aspects today is the Constitution as John Marshall interpreted it. As Chief Justice, he embodied the majesty of the judiciary of the government as fully as the President of the United States stood for the power of the Executive Branch.

Marshall wrote several important Supreme Courtmarker opinions, including:

Marshall served as Chief Justice through all or part of six Presidential administrations (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson), and remained a stalwart advocate of Federalism and a nemesis of the Jeffersonian school of government throughout its heyday. He participated in over 1000 decisions, writing 519 of the opinions himself.

He established the Supreme Court as the final authority on matters of constitutional law.

His impact "on American constitutional law is peerless" and the totality of his work on the court has been likened to his being the "Babe Ruth" of the Supreme Court. "As the single most important figure on constitutional law, Marshall's imprint can still be fathomed in the great issues of contemporary America."

Despite modesty and blandness, Marshall held strong views. He dominated the Court and "was personally responsible for elevating it to a position of real authority." Despite all that, he "often curbed" his personal opinions, preferring to arrive at decisions by consensus. He adjusted his role to accommodate other members of the court as they developed. His performance as chief justice established the paradigm for all chief justices who followed in his place.

President John Adams offered this appraisal of Marshall's impact: "My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life."

Biography of Washington

Marshall greatly admired George Washington, and wrote a highly influential biography. Between 1805 and 1807, he published a five-volume biography; his Life of Washington was based on records and papers provided him by the president's family. The first volume was reissued in 1824 separately as A History of the American Colonies. The work reflected Marshall's Federalist principles. His revised and condensed two-volume Life of Washington was published in 1832. Historians have often praised its accuracy and well-reasoned judgments, while noting his frequent paraphrases of published sources such as William Gordon's 1801 history of the Revolution and the British Annual Register.

Other work, later life, legacy

Marshall loved his home, built in 1790, in Richmond, Virginia, and spent as much time there as possible in quiet contentment. While in Richmond he attended St. John's Church in Church Hill until 1814 when he led the movement to hire Robert Mills as architect of Monumental Churchmarker, which commemorated the death of 72 Virginians. The Marshall family occupied pew No. 23 at Monumental Churchmarker and entertained the Marquis de Lafayette there during his visit to Richmond in 1824. For approximately three months each year, however, he would be away in Washington for the Court's annual term; he would also be away for several weeks to serve on the circuit court in Raleigh, North Carolinamarker.

In 1823, he became first president of the Richmond branch of the American Colonization Society, which was dedicated to resettling freed American slaves in Liberiamarker, on the West coast of Africa.

In 1828, he presided over a convention to promote internal improvements in Virginia.

In 1829, he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention, where he was again joined by fellow American statesman and loyal Virginians, James Madison and James Monroe, although all were quite old by that time. Marshall mainly spoke at this convention to promote the necessity of an independent judiciary.

On December 25, 1831, Mary, his beloved wife of some 49 years, died. Most who knew Marshall agreed that after Mary's death, he was never quite the same.

On returning from Washington in the spring of 1835, he suffered severe contusions resulting from an accident to the stage coach in which he was riding. His health, which had not been good for several years, now rapidly declined, and in June he journeyed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker for medical attendance. There he died on July 6, at the age of 79, having served as Chief Justice for over 34 years. He also was the last surviving member of John Adams's Cabinet and the second to last surviving Founding Father, the last being James Madison.

Two days before his death, he enjoined his friends to place only a plain slab over his and his wife's graves, and he wrote the simple inscription himself. His body, which was taken to Richmond, lies in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in a well kept grave.

JOHN MARSHALL

Son of Thomas and Mary Marshall

was born September 24 1755

Intermarried with Mary Willis Ambler

the 3rd of January 1783

Departed this life

the 6th day of July 1835.

Monuments and memorials

Marshall's home in Richmond, Virginiamarker, has been preserved by APVA Preservation Virginia. It is considered to be an important landmark and museum, essential to an understanding of the Chief Justice's life and work. See, John Marshall Housemarker.

The United States Bar Association commissioned sculptor William Wetmore Story to execute the statue of Marshall that now stands sits inside the Supreme Court on the ground floor. Another casting of the statue is located at Constitution Ave. and 4th Street in Washington D.C. and a third on the grounds of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Story's father Joseph Story had served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Courtmarker with Marshall. The statue was originally dedicated in 1884.

An engraved portrait of Marshall appears on U.S. paper money on the series 1890 and 1891 treasury notes. These rare notes are in great demand by note collectors today. Also, in 1914, an engraved portrait of Marshall was used as the central vignette on series 1914 $500 federal reserve notes. These notes are also quite scarce. Example of both notes are available for viewing on the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco website.

Having grown from a Reformed Church academy, Marshall College, named upon the death of Chief Justice John Marshall, officially opened in 1836 with a well-established reputation. After a merger with Franklin College in 1853, the school was renamed Franklin and Marshall Collegemarker. The college went on to become one of the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges.

Four law schools and one University today bear his name: The Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Marymarker in Williamsburg, Virginiamarker; The Cleveland-Marshall College of Lawmarker in Cleveland, Ohio; John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, Georgia; and, The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, Illinois. The University that bears his name is Marshall Universitymarker in Huntington West Virginia. Marshall County, Illinoismarker, Marshall County, Indianamarker,Marshall County, Kentuckymarker and Marshall County, West Virginiamarker are also named in his honor. A number of high schools around the nation have also been named for him.

John Marshall's birthplace in Fauquier Countymarker is a park, the John Marshall Birthplace Park, and a marker can be seen on Route 28 noting this place and event.

Marshall, Michiganmarker was named by town founders Sidney and George Ketchum in honor of the Chief Justice of the United States John Marshall from Virginia—whom they greatly admired. Occurring five years before Marshall's death, it was the first of dozens of communities and counties named for him. Marshalltown, Iowamarker was allegedly named for the Michigan city, but adopted its current name because there was already a Marshall, Iowa

John Marshall was an active Freemason and served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Prominent family connections



Bibliography



Primary sources



Notes

  1. Quoted in Baker (1972), p. 4 and Stites (1981), p. 7.
  2. John Marshall at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. Stites (1981), pp. 11-15.
  4. Supreme Court Justices Who Are Phi Beta Kappa Members, ‘’Phi Beta Kappa website’’, accessed Oct 4, 2009
  5. "John Marshall" Encyclopædia Britannica, from Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite 2004 DVD. Copyright © 1994–2003 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. May 30, 2003
  6. "Marshall, John." (1888). Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
  7. "Marshall, John." (1911) Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Stites (1981), pp. 77-80.
  9. Quoted in Stites (1981), p. 80.
  10. John Marshall at Supreme Court Historical Society.
  11. Oyez Project, Supreme Court media, John Marshall.
  12. Fox, John, Expanding Democracy, Biographies of the Robes, John Marshall. Public Broadcasting Service.
  13. Newmyer, R. Kent. John Marshall at Answers.com.
  14. The Marshall Court, 1801-1835, Supreme Court Historical Society.
  15. Marshall, John; Widger, David, Ed., Life of Washington (Document No. 28859 -- Release Date 2009-05-18) at Project Gutenberg.
  16. William A. Foran, "John Marshall as a Historian," American Historical Review, Vol. 43, No. 1 (October, 1937), pp. 51-64 in JSTOR
  17. National Park Service, "The Great Chief Justice" at Home, Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
  18. . See also, Christensen, George A. (2008) Here Lies the Supreme Court Revisited: Gravesites of the Justices. Supreme Court Historical Society. Journal of the Supreme Court, 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 - 41 (19 Feb 2008), University of Alabama.
  19. *
  20. National Park Service, "The Great Chief Justice" at Home, Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
  21. Pictures of US Treasury Notes featuring John Marshall, provided by theFederal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.


References



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